Sometimes it takes a worldwide pandemic to remind us who we truly are.
Was it really just last month that we could shop without worrying about empty shelves? Was it really only a few weeks ago that our retirement seemed so secure, our jobs seemed so steady, and the world seemed so normal, so safe?
Then overnight everything changed. The rug was pulled out from beneath us. When we have nothing to lean on, nothing to catch us, and our backside lands squarely on the floor, we can see our identity more clearly. Sometimes it takes a worldwide pandemic to remind us who we truly are.
In a way, this pandemic has given us a wonderful opportunity. In the midst of the heartache, the anxiety, the loss, God is working—always working—his beautiful plan for his glory and the good of his people. Coronavirus has, for a moment at least, stripped away the façade of this world’s system. This virus has shaken us loose from our addiction to all things worldly and can help us remember our true identity.
And who are we, really? “I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger,” says the old song, “traveling through this world below.” We know this, in our heads. But when our schedule continues as planned, the stock market is strong, and things are comfortable, we allow our heart to put down roots here. We forget that this world is passing away.
We forget who we truly are—exiles. A ragged band of misfits. A pilgrim people following our Leader to a better country. This world is not our home.
Know Who You Are: Christian Nomads
This should come as no surprise to us when we consider the heroes of the faith whom we are following. We are Christian nomads, like our father Abraham before us, on a journey to receive our inheritance by faith (Heb 11:8). Abraham left the comfort and security of his home, believing that God would provide “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (11:16). He lived out of a suitcase his whole life, as it were, “living in tents” (11:9) because he was “looking forward to the city that has foundations” (11:10). By faith, he traded a home here for a better home to come.
Abraham knew his identity here on earth. He and his family knew “that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (11:13). He firmly believed that there was a heritage promised to the Lord’s servants, a beautiful city of righteousness designed and established by God himself. (If you want to be encouraged, spend some time meditating on Isaiah 54:11-17 and the city we are looking forward to.)
It’s easy to forget this when everything seems so normal. Trials have a unique way of loosening our grip on all things worldly. And Coronavirus can, if we let it, help break our infatuation with this world.
Know Where You Are: Trekking through the Wilderness
Many of our problems can be attributed to the fact that we don’t know our place. When I’m shopping at the mall, I invariably get lost, and I need to find one of those big maps with a marker that says “you are here.” Sometimes it helps, and other times I have to FaceTime with my wife until I find the right store. My point is not my ineptitude at shopping, but that we need to know our place in this journey called the Christian life.
The Bible provides many patterns that help us find our place, such as the exodus narrative. But where are we?
- Are we still in bondage in Egypt? No, we’ve been redeemed by our Passover Lamb and have followed him through the death waters to new life.
- Are we already enjoying the land of milk and honey? No, the Bible says that “the promise of entering his rest still stands” (Heb 4:1). The rest Joshua gave them was partial (4:8), just as the rest we enjoy in Christ today is only a foretaste of what is to come.
So where are we? Not in Egypt and not in the Promised Land, but smack dab in the middle—wandering in the wilderness.
Peter even refers to the Christian life as “the time of your exile” (1 Pet 1:17; cf. 2:11). We are still waiting for the ultimate rest in the new heavens and earth. We’re not home yet. We’re pilgrims, wandering through the desert of this world, like wayfaring strangers.
Know Whom You are Following: The Founder of Our Salvation
Neither the example of Abraham nor the people of Israel are sufficient to guide us home. Thankfully, we’re not on this journey alone. We follow Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2). He too went on a journey full of suffering and trials, but stayed faithful to the point of death and came out on the other side. He conquered death and lives to tell about it. Now we, a ragtag band of travelers, follow in his footsteps until he leads many sons to glory (Heb 2:10).
A Travel Guide for Pilgrims
I don’t want to minimize the challenges each of us is facing because of Coronavirus, but I am confident that God is accomplishing his good and perfect purposes through this. And one of those good purposes is to help his people know how to navigate these times as pilgrims. So here’s a brief travel guide for pilgrims in a pandemic.
- Pilgrims remember their true identity. They are citizens of another kingdom.
- Pilgrims do not forget that they are living out of their suitcases. This world is not their final destination.
- Pilgrim’s keep their eyes on Jesus no matter what happens in this world. He will lead them safely home.
- Pilgrims use their time on this earth for God’s kingdom. They invest in things that will last forever—the gospel, discipleship, and God’s people.
We are poor wayfaring strangers, traveling through this world below. And this is a great encouragement because “there is no sickness, no toil, nor danger in that bright land to which I go.”